By the Pew Research Center
Heading into the 2020 election season, a new Pew Research Center survey delves into the relationship between religion and politics, including perceptions about President Donald Trump among white evangelical Protestants, a key part of his electoral base. It finds that white evangelicals largely see Trump as fighting for their beliefs and advancing their interests, and they feel their side generally has been winning recently on political matters important to them. But when it comes to Trump’s personal qualities and conduct, many express mixed feelings. Even among this strongly supportive constituency, most do not view Trump as a very religious, honest or morally upstanding person (though many white evangelicals say he is somewhat religious, fairly honest or fairly morally upstanding).
More broadly, the survey finds that U.S. adults prize a president who lives a moral and ethical life more than they care about having one who is religious. More than six-in-10 Americans say it is “very important” to them to have a president who personally lives a moral and ethical life. By comparison, just one-in-five say it is very important for a president to have strong religious beliefs, and even fewer respondents think it is vital for the president to share their own religious beliefs.
On the whole, Americans care more about having a president who stands up for their religious beliefs than having one who personally shares those beliefs. Roughly seven-in-10 say it is either very (38%) or somewhat (31%) important to have a president who stands up for people with their religious beliefs.To the public overall, morality is more important in a president than strong religious beliefs.
White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to hold this view. Two-thirds of white evangelicals say it is very important to have a president who stands up for their religious beliefs, about double the share who say it is very
important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. And white evangelicals say Trump fits the bill: Fully eight-in-10 white evangelical Protestants say that the phrase “fights for what I believe in” describes Trump “very well” or “fairly well,” including roughly half who say this describes him “very well.”
Moreover, white evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly feel that the Trump administration has helped (59%) rather than hurt (7%) the interests of evangelical Christians. And three-quarters of white evangelicals say they agree with the president on “many,” “nearly all” or “all” important issues facing the country.
While white evangelical Protestants generally see Trump as standing up for them, they are less convinced that he personally lives a moral and ethical life or conducts himself admirably. Just 15% of white evangelicals say the phrase “morally upstanding” describes Trump very well, and about a quarter say “honest” is a very good descriptor of the president (23%). About one-third of white evangelicals (31%) say they like the way Trump conducts himself as president (aside from his positions on the issues). Fully two-thirds either have “mixed feelings” about his conduct (44%) or say they don’t like it (22%). And only about one-in-eight white evangelicals (12%) think Trump is a very religious person.
Still, even though relatively few white evangelicals say words and phrases like “morally upstanding” and “honest” describe Trump very well, most say these traits describe Trump at least fairly well. And while just one-in-eight white evangelicals say they think Trump is “very” religious, about half (52%) view him as “somewhat” religious.
Compared with white evangelical Protestants, the U.S. public as a whole is far less apt to praise the way Donald Trump conducts himself, or to describe him as even somewhat religious, honest or morally upstanding. For example, just 35% of U.S. adults overall say Trump is either very religious (7%) or somewhat religious (28%); a solid majority of the general public thinks he is “not too” or “not at all” religious (63%). Likewise, majorities say that “honest” and “morally upstanding” describe Trump “not too well” or “not at all well.” And on balance, Americans are much more likely to say they dislike (53%) rather than like (15%) the way Trump conducts himself, while an additional three-in-ten say they have “mixed feelings” about his conduct.
Across all religious groups in this analysis, there is near consensus on one Trump characteristic: Majorities of all groups, including 70% of white evangelicals, say that “self-centered” describes Trump at least fairly well.
These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Feb. 4 to 15, 2020, among 6,395 U.S. adults on the Center’s online, nationally representative American Trends Panel. The rest of this Overview looks at these questions and others in greater detail.
Many other white Christians – not just evangelicals – express affinity for Trump